News


22
Aug 19

ARE YOU THE CANARY IN THE COAL MINE?

There are so many canaries in so many coal mines.

This summer, I’ve noticed only a small fraction of the butterflies we used to have. Last year, experts said butterfly populations have dropped by fifty per cent. Half. Around here it seems less than half. Honey Bees also–very few here. There used to be a grand summer buzz of bees. Not now. Down 40% since last year, the experts tell us. Even the hardy, ubiquitous wasps are few. I’m not fan of wasps but it’s spooky when they vanish. Frogs are vanishing from creeks. I could quote dire statistics on sea mammal deaths. Whales, dugongs, sea lions. Salmon are dying from the  heat increase in northern seas. Here’s the latest headline from the American Association for the Advancement of the Sciences: “Neonicotinoid insecticides cause rapid weight loss and travel delays in migrating songbirds”…What do you suppose that augurs for songbirds?

The causes? Habitat loss, anthropogenic climate change, pesticides, too much land given over to industrial agriculture and meat mega-ranches, herbicides –which harm more than weeds–and other wonderful innovations of humanity. A new giant plastic garbage patch has turned up in the North Sea. Oceanic Dead Zones proliferate. Recently rain and snow has been found to be suffused with tiny plastic particles. Plastic particle pollution is found  in “extreme concentrations” in the Arctic, I read. NINETY PER CENT of fish stocks are used up. “Bird population in steep decline in North America” the headline says.

It’s all the same cause–humanity. No, more specifically, human greed.

Greed! Greed is behind the mindless use of pesticides, and herbicides; it’s behind the fires in the Amazon destroying the forests needed to clean the air, and destroying the animals, the butterfly and bird habitats there; it’s behind denial about greenhouse gases causing climate change; it’s behind over-fishing and the over-production of plastics and the destruction of habitats needed for …butterflies.

We humans are interconnected with the animal world. I wonder who’s next?

Me? You?

You may as well take another Prozac and turn on the latest tragic superhero fantasy. What else would you do?


3
Jul 19

The Cruel Irony of Amazon “Fulfillment Centers” CAN End. If…

John Oliver’s entertaining and horrifying report on Amazon’s so-called Fulfillment Centers was scathing, was very much needed, and nearly made me despair of humanity. But–there’s hope for at least some mitigation of the near-slavery conditions at these giant warehouses, if Amazon CEO and owner Bezos is shamed or sued into doing the right thing. Or–if we simply persuade him that the right thing is not really problematic for his bottom line. I have some suggestions for reorganizing the Amazon mega-warehouses they call “Fulfillment Centers”.

The Problem. The ironic label “Fulfillment Centers”–which sounds like an unwitting euphemism for erogenous zones–draws bitter laughter from those who’ve worked at these macroscopic rat mazes. Workers are under constant threat of being fired if they don’t keep up an unnaturally high rate of moving goods in the vast warehouse, where the oh-so-urgently needed items are scattered almost at random all over the enormous building. There is some effort at organization but not enough. Fetching from distant shelves is a process  done on foot, some people traipsing fifteen miles in a day. Some of them are elderly people. There really isn’t time to go to the bathroom, because you’ll fall behind on the required rate of package transportation and you’ll be fired (not a hollow threat). And you only took the job because you really, really needed the 15 dollars an hour. In some centers people have collapsed. The psychological pressure is as taxing as the physical stress. The breathless promise of hyperfast delivery to spoiled consumers means a constant push push push for faster faster faster. It’s worse than that, really–watch Oliver’s acidly funny if nightmarish report.

Common sense solutions occur to me, but they’ll require Bezos investing money in the remedies–and of course that’s an onerous burden on him since he’s merely a billionaire many times over and one of the richest men on the planet. Oh what the hell, I’ll offer them anyway.

Here’s the First idea: Bezos, shut down one center at a time (or sections of a center at a time). While the other centers or sections continue status quo, the designated one is reorganized so that items are more rigorously stored by type. One area is a series of hardware sections, each hardware section specializing as much as possible. Workers are reassigned or hired to take over each such center, one or two per each. They obtain the needed product with relative ease, and give it to a freight tram–little three wheeled things with small truck beds–whose driver trundles it along the wide aisles to the delivery people. No one then has to go on these epic warehouse hikes. Also,  build more localized bathrooms–an expense and a worthwhile tax deductible one…Rinse and repeat with every section, and every Fulfillment Center. Gosh that might use up half of one of Bezos’s many billions. He might have to do without …without, uh…nothing at all.

Second, adjust the speed of delivery requirements. Amazon often delivers with astounding rapidity. It doesn’t need that breathless speed to be an enormously profitable business. It’ll remain,  robustly driving independent bookstores and record stories and hardware stores and clothing shops out of business. Bezos will continue to make billions.

Third, pay a higher wage, hire more people, and offer real benefits. I’m all for unions but Bezos is hardcore anti-union. If he hires more people (to ease the burden on employees) and improve their pay and benefits, he won’t have to engage in union busting–people will be less inclined to try to unionize. It works at CostCo. But if he can’t bring himself to go that far, he could pretty much end the rising public condemnation if he takes steps one and two alone.

You’ll still be crazy rich if you take these steps, Jeff Bezos. You’ll continue to  have Everest-high piles of  cash for your Blue Origin space program–I’m truly all for space programs, yours included–and you’ll still be able to do pretty much anything else you damn please…


20
Jun 19

CULTURE SLASH #3 – A COLUMN FOR THE AGHAST by John Shirley

LATEST POINTLESS “NEWS STORY” FROM CNN – Headline: “Walmart is getting rid of its blue vests. Here’s what the new ones look like” – no, really. That’s the actual headline. And there’s nothing else in the article of any interest whatsoever. Why does “no one cares!” not matter to CNN? And this did not appear in some kind of business affairs section. No, it was of general interest! To no one.

Years ago, I worked as an assistant at a marketing company. Firms would give us press releases about their new products to the marketing company, which the market outfit sent, almost verbatim, to contacts at newspapers—and which sometimes appeared in newspapers just as we at the marketing company had written them. This creeping laziness took root in the moldering loam of cynicism. I’m pretty sure this Wal-Mart “news” piece originated with a Wal-Mart press release. And we see actual articles about “the new burger from Burger King”—and nope, it’s not an ad. Or is it? Does CNN get revenue for pieces like this, revenue it isn’t letting us know about? Anyway, if you’re going to publish articles of no serious interest to anyone, how about this, which is at least accurate reporting: Latest Processed Food Garbage Offers Even More Calories and Carbs For Customers Who Prefer To Feel Like Crap.

YOU’LL SUCK PLASTIC AND YOU’LL LIKE IT – “Globally, we are ingesting an average of 5 grams of plastic every week, the equivalent of a credit card, a new study suggests. This plastic contamination comes from ‘microplastics’ — particles smaller than five millimeters — which are making their way into our food, drinking water and even the air.” That’s CNN too and it’s one of their actually newsworthy pieces. It’s also ironically appropriate. We’re choking sea life with our plastic waste, after all, so we deserve to choke on it too. And the comparison to swallowing a credit card’s worth of plastic has a certain unintended poetry—mindless consumers lean heavily into credit. They use those cards like—well, like crazy. And their mindless consumerism encourages the plastic-bound throwaway culture that’s wrecking the biosphere.

NEW FRONTIERS OF SHALLOWNESS: “They Have Millions of Instagram Followers, but They’re Not Real People” – New York Times …Fans of songs by “Lil Miquela” were shocked to hear that the supposed singer who has supposedly “worked with Prada” and supposedly “has a tattoo designed by a fashionable artist”…isn’t real. She’s made of pixels and voicing and she’s designed to attract followers and likes. But there are lots of these fake human beings—literally fake, not just “ha-ha, he’s so fake”, and it’s not just vapid teens who get sucked in. Adults, too, gape ingenuously at these glittery, disturbingly real-looking “persons” on Instagram and YouTube. You have to be remarkably shallow—like a millimeter-deep pool of liquid graphene—to believe that these creatures are real. They look realistic but everything about them, to those who’re paying attention, says they’re not even as real as scripted actors in full make-up. They’re CGI. And they’re not based on anyone in particular—they’re based on glamorous tropes. Their followers are so conditioned by hand-screen media their reactions become utterly knee jerk–they really don’t give their brains time to process what’s real and what isn’t.

Deepfake news stories—visual lies  now on the way to your cell phone, to further condition and distract you–come to mind, too. It’s another level of deceptive CGI… People have always been prone to falling under the sway of superficial media personalities —ask your favorite demagogue or popstar—but humanity has reached a new level of inane pliability. Which means we can be led…anywhere.

ANTI-VAX MILLIONAIRES – From the Washington Post: “A wealthy Manhattan couple has emerged as significant financiers of the anti-vaccine movement, contributing more than $3 million in recent years to groups that stoke fears about immunizations…” That’s a hedge fund manager named Bernard Selz and his wife, Lisa—gibbering paranoids who are doing a lot to stimulate anti-vaccine hysteria.

Here’s what will eventually come about, in your lifetime, because of people like this:  major plagues that will kill millions of people. You think the new measles phenomenon is bad? Pshaw. That’s nothing in comparison to what anti-vaxxers will shower upon us.

Thanks to climate change, viruses and bacteria once found only in relatively remote regions of the world are increasingly able to spread far and wide—to places where more people throng. The more people an infectious disease reaches–the more people it will go on to reach. It will expand exponentially…Plagues will arise. Hard working scientists will make vaccines available to counter major new pathogens and anti-vaxxers will block the vaccines. And when humanity realizes that millions could have been saved if not for anti-vaxxers, people like Mr and Mrs Selz may well end up being prosecuted for manslaughter. And they’re very likely indeed to be vastly, hugely, multitudinously — sued!

THE DNC IS GOING TO FORCE ME TO DO SOMETHING I DON’T WANT TO DO. And yes—I will submit to any DNC nomination, whoever it is, as the alternative will be worse….I have this sick feeling that the DNC is going to force me to vote for Joe Biden. Despite his long history of racial insensitivity predicating his recent senescence-driven racial gaffe; despite his history of being demeaning and handsy-grandfather inappropriate with women…despite all, I will be forced to vote for him if he gets the Democratic nomination because, well, as I heard Stephanie Miller say, “In the general election we have to vote for any carbon-based lifeform who isn’t Trump”. And she’s right. Even a blundering glad-handing, toe-stomping, clueless, badly aging white guy, like Biden is preferable to Trump. Biden would at least  return us to sanity. Mostly. He would see that competent people are named to cabinet positions. He would do pretty well with international relations.

But compared to someone like Elizabeth Warren,  Biden is an empty suit. Please, DNC—I’ll vote for an empty suit if I have to, but for pity’s sake don’t make me.


19
Mar 19

We Need to Teach Our Kids the Truth About the Internet

The whole concept of fact-checking is lost to most people. “I saw it on the internet” is good enough. It had headlines. It looked official. It said it was a news site. Therefore Hilary Clinton is selling children to a child-sex ring in a pizza parlor. No one is explaining to children that the internet is not truth. Truth can be found on it–but the internet is not equal to reality.   And we’re failing to convey this simple fact to people young and old. We seem to assume they should already know this. They don’t. And saying “don’t believe everything you read on the internet” is not enough.

The internet, as educated adults know, is seething with lies. Conspiracy theories, fake news from “white nationalist” racists, slanders against decent Democrats and progressives–there are web skeins, long chains of racist, fake-history videos each reinforcing the prior one, shunted to you by algorithms designed to keep you on whatever website you’re on–often, the egregious youtube– all coming at us in a cascade of falsity. There is the fallacious elaborately “supported” claim that the Civil War was not about slavery–if you do your fact-checking you find that this claim is untrue. But who bothers? There isn’t time–we have to check our Instagram feed, our Twitter feed, our Facebook Conspiracy Round-up Group.  Anti-Vaxxers get their falsehoods from the internet. The Qanon  conspiracy-theory fantasy is spread on the internet. From those sources parents and scared youth get the impression their doctors are trying to make them sick with vaccines and the government is trying to enslave them. There are amazing numbers of people following videos on youtube claiming that Michelle Obama is really a drag queen or a transsexual; that we never went to the moon; and, yes, that the Earth is flat. And then there’s Alex Jones’ special brand of fantasy.

We should be teaching our children how to use the internet in a different way. We should be teaching them critical thinking–if a claim is outrageous it’s almost certainly not true; if an outrageous claim is backed up by untraceable or phonily sourced “proofs” it’s certainly not true. We should be training them, above all, to identify intelligent, reliable sources of information. Even some conservative ones–the Wall Street Journal online is not so bad, at least it gets most of its underlying facts straight (they go awry in the interpretation of a fact’s ramifications), and a few other conservative sources are alright. More to the point, I find that the New York Times, despite claims to the contrary, is even-handed, and so is the Washington Post. We need to find ways to demonstrate one on one that some sources are reputable and we must find clear ways to set this out. Otherwise our children will be wandering, lost, in the world’s ugliest jungle–the internet…


7
Jul 14

Author’s PREFACE to WYATT IN WICHITA – a novel About Wyatt Earp

Here’s my PREFACE to Wyatt in Wichita. The novel itself will be out, shortly, this preface included, from Skyhorse publications.

Preface: The Legend of Wyatt Earp

Wyatt In Wichita is a novel about a historic figure: Wyatt Berry Stapp Earp. The work you hold in your hand focuses on the young Wyatt Earp. But it’s still a novel and, inevitably, quite a bit of this tale is fiction, including the murder at the heart of the plot. Even so, many of the events in this novel did happen, and I tried to portray him in a way that seems to me close to the historic young Wyatt Earp. He was capable of doing all he does in this novel. And a number of the remarks he makes in this novel—and those made by certain others—are in fact quotations, statements made in real life.

The legend of Wyatt Earp has gone through cycles, spinning like a Peacemaker’s cylinder. Early on, the first “popularizer” of the Tombstone story, Walter Noble Burns, called him “the lion of Tombstone” and Earp myth-maker Stuart Lake made him the archetypal “Frontier Marshal.”

After a spate of overly reverential mid-century Hollywood movies, the 1960s brought a series of biased attacks on Earp’s reputation. The anti-Earp crowd claimed that Lake and Earp made many of his exploits up, or wildly exaggerated them. These writers had a way of quoting Earp’s enemies; they chose their documentation very selectively, and sometimes they made things up themselves—or exaggerated more than Lake did, but in the negative. One of the principal anti-Earp authors is from Texas, where people still grumble about how Wyatt Earp treated some of their grandfathers who were troublesome cowpokes in Dodge City and Wichita. Wyatt had a short way with rowdy drunks and Texas has never forgiven it.

In recent years, the cylinder has spun again. Serious, deep-delving researchers like Bob Palmquist, Allen Barra, John Gilchriese, and Casey Tefertiller have found evidence strongly supporting Earp. Stuart Lake exaggerated and he certainly cleaned Wyatt up, but he had some of it right. For example, Earp did, after all, ride shotgun out of Deadwood; he did arrest Shanghai Pierce; and Earp’s courtroom testimony concerning the gunfight not-quite-at-the-OK-Corral has been confirmed by forensic research. The most negative tales about Wyatt S. Earp have been cast into doubt or largely refuted.

It’s also true that Wyatt Earp was no angel—he was a complex man, and he had his dark side. We see that dark side in this novel: Earp was involved with a prostitution ring, in 1872. But he put this behind him and, despite some very human ethical stumbles, became a good lawman. It turns out that, despite the redundancy, he really was, as the old TV theme song had it, “brave, courageous and bold.”

Some historians suspect Wyatt Earp killed more men than is generally acknowledged—Johnny Ringo might’ve been one of those men—but the fights in which Wyatt fires his gun, in this novel are fiction. Wyatt in Wichita is about the young Earp, and takes place before Tombstone.

Many of the men Wyatt faced down in this novel were real, and Wyatt’s basic conflicts with them were much as I describe them. The tale of Bat Masterson and Corporal King is true, too.

While the characters Dandi LeTrouveau, Sanchez, Swinnington, Johann Burke, Toothless Mike and Montaigne are made up, Bessie Earp was a real person, as were Celia Ann “Mattie” Blaylock, Sallie Earp, Charlie Utter, Dave Leahy; so were Mike Meagher, John Slaughter, Ida May, Dunc Blackburn, Mannen Clements, Thompson’s enemies in Ellsworth, and Isaac Dodge. And of course Bat Masterson was real; so was his close friendship with Wyatt Earp. The novel’s newspaper quotations are also genuine. They are given verbatim.

The young Henry McCarty (also, William Henry McCarty), who later became well known under a different name, was in Wichita at the time Wyatt was there. No one knows if they met. They could have. Wyatt did have a fight with Doc Black like the one I describe in the novel, and for the reasons I give. Wyatt said he first met Wild Bill Hickok in Kansas City.

Opinions vary, but I believe Wyatt could have run into James Butler “Wild Bill” Hickok in Deadwood too. And Wyatt’s riding shotgun for Wells Fargo, the subsequent encounter with outlaws on the trail to Cheyenne, and how that wound up, did happen much as I described it, though I have woven the real event into my fictional plot.

Early on, I had to skip ahead in time a bit—and over some mighty eventful times. A few events in Wyatt’s real history, depicted here, have been chronologically shifted for dramatic purposes. But a great many incidents in the novel really happened, as for instance the Ida May’s piano story, the confrontation on the bridge over the Arkansas River, Smith’s calumnies, Wyatt’s thumping of him, and Abel Pierce’s arrest in Wichita.

When I could, I stuck to facts.

John Shirley, 2013


3
Mar 14

Phantoms of the OSCARS

I only saw part of the Academy Awards and lost interest, but I liked Ellen Degeneres’s comic hosting, especially her line about Liza Minnelli who was in the audience. ‘”I have to say that is one of the most amazing Liza Minnelli impersonators I’ve ever seen in my entire life,” she said, pointing out Minnelli sitting in the audience. “Good job, sir.”‘ Good drag queen joke. Not sure Liza got it, judging from her expression. But if you missed the show, it was a kind of combination of self-adulation, and self-loathing –the latter in the comedy, as if to make up for the narcissism. Here’s a translation of what most people besides Ellen Degeneres said, if they were introducing people or accepting: “I gratefully KISS YOUR ASS. I kiss YOUR ass, Warner Brothers, and I kiss YOUR ass, Paramount, and I kiss YOUR ass, producer, and I kiss YOUR ass, director, and I kiss YOUR ass everybody else.” So just imagine that over and over again and you have the show, except for that hideous backdrop during the “Happiness” song where they actually had a giant non-ironic happy face. Speaking of movies, during that bit I kept thinking, “The horror…the horror…”

Kim Novak is probable getting acidic tweets about her appearance on the Oscars. The poor thing–she’s 81, trying to look 18. Girl, that surgery and that botox is not working. You’re a poster child for “the older you get the less cosmetic surgery works” or possibly “the more cosmetic surgery you get, the less it works.” A little neck tuck, that I can see. But apart from that most of these people look worse with the surgery than if they just let themselves age. It’s as if they have no respect for old people, which is ironic. But also it’s about the fact that they can’t really see themselves as they are *even in a mirror*. They get this extreme and grotesque unworkable surgery and then they *see* something else in the mirror. They mentally edit it. So long as there are no wrinkles they can seemingly see what they want. It’s living satire. Poor kid. i felt bad for her. She was so good in Vertigo. Her cosmetic surgery is now nauseatingly vertiginous. One feels, looking at it, one is falling into another and terrible world, to paraphrase PG Wodehouse.

The last time I remember seeing cosmetic surgery that hideous was on the Academy Awards was when Liberace accepted a special Oscar…That surgery was hideous, looked very new…and he looked terrified. I felt for him too.

I am saying that women in Hollywood should NOT HAVE TO have that kind of surgery–they shouldn’t be bullied into that kind of delusional extreme self modification. I’m saying it does not work and it only opens the poor thing up to ridicule. I feel my post was entirely sympathetic. This is not an ordinary situation. This is not “her dress is awful” or “she’s overweight.” I don’t care about that. this is not about minor cosmetic surgery. This is about self disfiguring due to delusion.

Basically I felt the 2014 Academy Awards lived up to its standard dismalness.


23
Oct 13

A New Dark Fantasy About the Creator of Sherlock Holmes in the Afterlife? Yes!

coverThis book, DOYLE AFTER DEATH, my new novel, is available TODAY in ebook format. The publisher is HarperCollins, for their Witness imprint.

If you’re a fan of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and want to know what happened to him after death (in fiction anyhow), why here’s the book for you.

Read a free sample at Barnes & Noble!

I know it’s now out in ebook format because I just bought it via Amazon and looked at it on this laptop. (Yes, I could’ve gotten that download free, but that would mean waiting for them to send me some special code, and I wanted to see it.) The ebook is only $2.99! (Promotional, don’t you know.) Seems nicely organized.

Available here for Kindle …and also available from Barnes and Noble for Nook, and elsewhere.

The mass market paperback appears to be coming out in about one month, in November and can be pre-ordered now at Amazon, BN.com, or just about any brick-and-mortar bookstore that carries mass market paperbacks.